PHOTOS: The 11 oldest businesses in Janesville

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Jim Leute
Saturday, September 14, 2013

A little luck combined with a passion for generational success has resulted in decades of success for Janesville's oldest businesses. Here is a list of the oldest 11 still in operation in the city, according to "Janesville's Oldest Continuing Businesses," a book published in 2003 by Albert and Lois Hough.


Founded: 1900

What it does: Supplier of operable partitions, movable walls and glass wall partitions, accordion doors and associated folding doors for creating flexible spaces and acoustic separation.

History: Started as the Hough Porch Shade Co. in New York, the business moved to Janesville in 1902 and started operations as Hough Shade Corp. The company changed its name to Hough Manufacturing Corp. in 1959. J. Michael Borden acquired the controlling interest in the company in 1978. The company became known as Hufcor in 1985.


Founded: 1893

What it does: Full-service florist

History: Founded by Fred and George Rentschler on South Main Street, the business operated several greenhouses and nurseries in Janesville. After a handful of ownership changes, Richard and Elnora Leyes were hired by the relatively new owners in 1949 to manage the business. The Leyes bought the business in 1951, and it has been a family business since. Janesville Floral closed its downtown store in 1995 and consolidated into its store on Mineral Point Avenue, which opened in 1976.


Founded: 1892

What it does: General contractor

History: Founder John Patrick Cullen learned the building trade by apprenticing for his father, who was a carpenter. He then expanded from houses to bigger projects. By 1920, the company was building large projects in the Midwest while not losing its focus on Wisconsin, where it would play a major role in building and renovating some of Janesville's and Wisconsin's most significant buildings.


Founded: 1890

What it does: Full-service florist, casual furniture and garden supplies.

History: Originally a greenhouse business on East Milwaukee Street, research by the Rock County Historical Society dates Fairview to sometime between 1875 and 1890. Harold Carlson bought the business in 1927. After more than 100 years of operation on East Milwaukee, Harold's son, Tom, moved Fairview to Racine Street in 2006.


Founded: 1885

What it does: Provides funeral and cremation services

History: Founded as Nelson Brothers Livery and Undertaking, the home was originally located at the east end of the Court Street bridge. The company bought Kimball Funeral Home, and the name was changed to Nelson-Kimball Funeral Home. Neal Schneider joined the partnership in 1960 and bought the business in 1962. In 1972 the name of the business changed to Schneider Funeral Home, and in 1974 a new funeral home was built on East Racine Street.


Founded: 1884

What it does: Site-work contractors.

History: The company started as Patrick Ryan-Grading Contractors with a team of mules building railroad embankment.  As it grew, it added roadwork and mining in the early 1900s, and by the 1940s, Ryan had become a full-service grading contractor serving both private industrial and public transportation customers. The company later added landfill construction, waste remediation and golf course construction. Today, it is a mass excavator and site-work contractor with expertise in residential, commercial, transportation, entertainment, energy and environmental work.


Founded: 1883

What it does: Regional law firm

History: Started as Fethers & Jeffris & Winans by John Winans, Ogden Fethers and Malcolm Jeffris. Founded with a dedication to business, the firm has been the home for many generations of lawyers who have been instrumental in the growth of Janesville and the Rock County community. The firm's lawyers were instrumental in the formation of the original Samson Tractor and Parker Pen.


Founded: 1882

What it does: Hardware store

History: James Harris founded the Janesville Barb Wire Co. on South River Street in response to regional farm expansions and an increasing demand for barbed wire. The fence, post and barbed wire part of the business was sold in 1937, when the company focused on implements and supplies. Harris Ace now has two stores in Janesville, two in Beloit and one in Monroe.


Founded: 1881

What it does: Regional law firm

History: Started as Sutherland & Nolan, Thomas S. Nolan in 1902 moved the practice to the Jackman & Smith building, the firm's headquarters ever since. The building has had a variety of tenants, including the Rock County National Bank, which moved diagonally across the street in 1961. The firm has grown through the years, continuing to follow its ideals and dedication to the private practice of law.


Founded: 1856

What it does: Custom brews a variety of beers and sodas

History: Joshua C. Gray started brewing Weiss beer and making seltzer water in a facility at 158 S. Locust St. It moved from Locust Street to its current plant on West Court Street in 1959. The plant was destroyed by fire in 1992 but rebuilt the following year. Fred Gray, the great-great-grandson of the founder, took over management of the award-winning brewery in 1995.


Founded: 1845

What it does: Owns and operates newspapers, radio stations and websites in Wisconsin and Illinois

History: Levi Alden and Z.A. Stoddard launched The Janesville Gazette as a weekly newspaper with 300 subscribers. Howard F. Bliss acquired the company in 1883 and passed it to his son, Harry H. Bliss in 1919. Harry's sons, Sidney H. and Robert W., succeeded their father in 1937. Skip Bliss acquired the company as publisher and president in 1992.

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